Roberta Frank

title.none: Clemoes, ed., Ælfric's Catholic Homilies (Frank)

identifier.other: baj9928.9809.020 98.09.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Roberta Frank, University of Toronto,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Ælfric of Eynsham. Ælfric's Catholic Homilies. Clemoes, Peter, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. xxii, 562. $88.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-197-22418-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.09.20

Ælfric of Eynsham. Ælfric's Catholic Homilies. Clemoes, Peter, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. xxii, 562. $88.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-197-22418-0.

Reviewed by:

Roberta Frank
University of Toronto

Ælfric, a prolific author in Latin and the vernacular, was born in Wessex around the middle of the tenth century. He studied in Winchester under Æthelwold, one of the leaders of the Benedictine Reform movement. According to a passage in Ælfric's Grammar recently noted by Vivien Law, he was also taught by Dunstan, another proponent of the English movement, and ordained by him. In 987 Ælfric moved to the monastery of Cerne Abbas, Dorset and in 1005 became abbot of Eynsham, near Oxford, where he remained until his death in or shortly after the year 1110. Early in his residence at Cerne Abbas, probably between 889 and 995, Ælfric wrote two series of readings in English for the church year known as the Catholic Homilies. His vernacular preface claims that he decided to compose the first group of forty homilies because he found "much heresy in many English books, which untaught men in their innocence held to be great wisdom." His Latin preface is blunter: the homilies are intended "for the edification of the simple."

In 1715 Elizabeth Elstob assembled materials for an edition of the Catholic Homilies, but only thirty-six pages of her work were printed. The first (and until now last) complete edition of the First and Second Series was that of Benjamin Thorpe, published in 1843-6 in two volumes with facing translation. Malcolm Godden's edition of the Second Series (EETS S.S. 5), which appeared in 1979, is now, in 1997, joined by Peter Clemoes' edition of the First. Anglo-Saxonists finally have a complete text of the Catholic Homilies founded on sound editorial principles and a wealth of manuscript evidence. A third and final volume by Godden, providing commentary and glossary for both the First and Second Series, is promised before the end of the millennium.

Clemoes' edition is based on the earliest manuscript of the First Series -- London, British Library, Royal 7C.xii, ff. 4- 218 -- which dates from c. 990 and contains corrections in Ælfric's own hand. The other surviving manuscripts of the First Series testify to extensive and prolonged revision by Ælfric during the remaining twenty years of his life. The textual history of Clemoes' edition -- in progress for some forty years -- is almost as complex as Ælfric's revisions.

Peter Clemoes, emeritus Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Cambridge, died suddenly in 1996, while actively preparing this edition for publication. He had begun it as a Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, submitted in 1955. During a busy academic career, he continued to work on the material, while producing a number of fundamental studies, such as "The Chronology of Ælfric's Works" (1959). He revised the critical apparatus in 1975 and at intervals subsequently. Malcolm Godden, his collaborator, former student, and now Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, has checked the apparatus against transcripts and, in some cases, manuscripts, added collations from two new manuscripts and some other fragments and transcripts, and lightly revised the format. Clemoes' textual introduction, written in 1965, takes account of John C. Pope's then forthcoming edition of Ælfric's supplementary homilies (1967) but includes nothing later. Godden has done his best to update the introduction with references (in square brackets) to more recent discoveries and editions, including his own; he has supplied about a thousand cross-references and text-references, indicated new information, and occasionally suggested ways in which Clemoes' preliminary conclusions might be qualified or developed. Finally, Godden is responsible for the account of editorial practice and the prelims (table of contents, list of sigla, etc.). His renovation of a sturdy edifice constructed in stages over four decades has been carried out faithfully, with skill, tact, and devotion.

The sheer number of texts included in Clemoes' edition is impressive. Ælfric's forty homilies are distributed in thirty-seven manuscripts (counting the two volumes of D and the three of T separately); they range from the British Library manuscript of 990 containing the entire First Series to a binding strip in Brasenose College, Oxford, containing on each side part of each of eleven lines from the first homily. Clemoes' detailed examination and collation of the manuscript evidence is meticulous. (A sam~le check of a passage in homily xxi against thirteen manuscript facsimiles found no errors.) Anonymous homilies are still referred to by church festival only (e.g., "a homily for Palm Sunday") rather than by Cameron number (available since 1973) as they are in Godden's edition. (The use of Cameron numbers makes it easier to identify the same homily in different manuscripts.) Alterations in the base text that are nearly contemporary with the writing of the manuscript are recorded in the apparatus and, when authenticated by other manuscripts, adopted in the main text. (Variant readings from other manuscripts are put in the second deck of the apparatus.) Manuscript punctuation, accents, and capitalization are retained in the text. Folio references and the page numbers of Thorpe's edition are supplied in the margins. Passages in the base manuscript that were cancelled by Ælfric are printed in Appendix A; Appendix B includes passages added in other manuscripts; and Appendix C supplies variant readings from five late manuscripts. For reasons of economy, variations that are of no apparent textuul significance have been excluded. Spelling variants alone could easily have added a hundred pages to the volume: for example, niwelnessa 'abyssew' (i,10) has -- in the nine manuscripts I checked -- eight different spellings. The regret, of course, is that important evidence for the development of late Old English and early Middle English has had to be omitted. The EETS policy of eliminating facing translations means that a general reader interested in Anglo-Saxon religious thought will still have to refer to Thorpe's (in all other respects supplanted) edition, which was reprinted in 1971.

The First Series of Ælfric's homilies include scriptural exegesis, saints' lives, catechetical matters, questions of procedure (why one turns east to pray, why one fasts), and much more. Ælfric is concerned, for example, with the apparent exclusion of women from the five thousand fed by Christ: "if a woman is manly by nature and strong to God's will, she will be numbered among the men who sit at God's table." Writing in the reign of Æthelred the Unready, he may have been thinking of someone in particular when he declared: "No man may make himself a king, for the people have the choice to pick that individual for king whom they wish; but after he has been hallowed as king, he has power over the people, and they may not shake his yoke from their necks." Ælfric's writings, as Godden has shown elsewhere, were concerned with national events even before his election as abbot of Eynsham and his association with powerful patrons.

At the end of his English preface to the First Series, Ælfric warns the scribe not to mess up his work: "He does great evil who copies falsely, unless he correct it ...." In the careful transcriptions of his most recent and much missed editor, Ælfric's concerns can be safely put to rest.